It was a story of two halves, but one of them was so decisive in its dominance, there were no qualms over who deserved to be the winner. Once again, Manchester United needed the excellent form of Robin van Persie to do most of the job for them.
Van Persie has scored more dramatic goals, but sometimes it’s good to start off early. Every time he touched the ball, acting as a finisher, a target man and a pivot, something happened for United. It creates so much disturbance in the opponents’ (this time Liverpool) defense, that players open up for a pass even without moving too much, just by getting the ball to Van Persie. He commands the attention of more than one player, and that’s where the trouble begin for the other teams.
United haven’t had a lot of moments when their midfield deserved a lot of praise, but it seems the new and more compact formation is making life easier for certain players to stand out. Tom Cleverley for example, who was United’s most active player on and off the ball during the first half, enjoying a very dominant spell in the middle of the pitch, while the Liverpool midfield had a hard time figuring out how to build an attack. A lot of everything began through Cleverley charging forward and creating openings for others to follow.
The wing play continues to be a problem for Ferguson, but every change comes at a cost. Ashley Young was dangerous in the early goings, but after taking on a few rough tackles and collisions, just couldn’t really keep up with the rest of the match. Rafael and Patrice Evra were involved early on but soon retreated to act as only defenders. The two actually did a good job against Sterling and Downing in the first half, but not so much in the second against Daniel Sturridge and Fabio Borini.
Ferguson did win a player back. Danny Welbeck is having a terrible season when it comes to scoring goals, used to combining with Wayne Rooney and not play as a half winger most of the time, but it looked like playing next to Robin van Persie while Shinji Kagawa took on the role of the player in the wide position did wonders for Welbeck, who was simply unlucky not to finish with a goal. His off the ball movement and touches always provided danger in the first half, before his entire team retreated for a reason no one knows.
David de Gea lived up to his promise and delivered one goal-costly mistake in the second half with another bad parry, although bad coverage from his defensive unit didn’t help. He did add a couple of nice saves later on to somewhat redeem himself in this match, but the rumors of his departure won’t be going away any time soon.
Great football was seen only for some of the time. United aren’t that good of a team to dominate a weaker side for the entire 90 minutes. But the defense held strong under heavy pressure in the second half, and the midfield showed it can dominate matches and not just be ushers between attack and defense without much involvement. In the 2012-2013 Premiership, having that and Robin van Persie is enough to win a title.